Inbox: How will Twins deal with Mauer's concussions?
Inbox: How will Twins deal with Mauer's concussions?
By Rhett Bollinger
MINNEAPOLIS -- Welcome to the first Twins Inbox of the offseason.
It should be another interesting winter for the Twins, who are coming off a third straight season with more than 96 losses. Their top priority remains adding starting pitching, but we'll see how the offseason goes.
The Inbox will be a regular feature here this offseason, so keep the questions coming, and without further ado, there's the first one of the offseason:
Have a question about the Twins?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Twins beat reporter Rhett Bollinger for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
I read that due to Josmil Pinto's very good September that he may be the primary catcher for the Twins in 2014 with Joe Mauer catching less and likely taking over at first base. Is this the best solution, especially since Chris Colabello and Chris Parmelee haven't proved they can handle big league pitchers? Or, do the Twins look for a free agent to man first base?
-- Josh R., St. Paul, Minn.
What the Twins plan to do with Mauer next season is one of the biggest question marks this offseason after he suffered his season-ending concussion on a foul tip while catching on Aug. 19.
Twins general manager Terry Ryan and Mauer have both insisted that Mauer will remain a catcher next season, but it's unclear how much they'll reduce his time behind the plate. Ryan and Mauer are scheduled to talk this offseason to come up with a plan for how much he'll catch, and I'm sure a lot of that will be predicated on how long Mauer's concussion-like symptoms linger into the offseason.
I could see the Twins using Mauer more sporadically behind the plate while giving him plenty of time at first base and at designated hitter similar to what they did in 2011, when he started 72 games at catcher, 42 at DH and 30 at first base. But unless Mauer's stance on catching changes, I still don't see the Twins permanently moving him away from catcher next season.
Pinto put himself in good position for a look at full-time catching duty next year, but still has a lot of work to do defensively, and his impressive offensive production came in the small sample size of just 21 games. So he'll definitely get plenty of starts at backstop next season, but it's too early to anoint him as the starting catcher for 2014.
As for first base, the Twins also have a decision to make, as they can increase Mauer's time there and use a mix of either Colabello or Parmelee behind him, or add a free agent. The Twins hoped that Parmelee, who dominated Triple-A Rochester in '12, or Colabello, who did the same in '13, would translate their success to the Majors, but it didn't happen last season.
Justin Morneau, who was traded to the Pirates on Aug. 31, remains an option to come back on a new contract, but I've heard mixed reports from those close to the organization on if he'd return to the Twins. On the one hand, his family likes the Twin Cities and he remains loyal to the organization, but on the other, he might prefer signing with a contender after playing in the postseason with the Pirates this year. So, Morneau's free-agent status this offseason is worth monitoring, and Minnesota's need for a first baseman could very well be dictated by Mauer's health.
Now that Morneau is gone, any chance of the Twins converting Oswaldo Arcia to a first baseman next year and moving Eddie Rosario back to the outfield?
-- Josh L., West Fargo, N.D.
The Twins don't have any current plans to move Arcia from the corner outfield to first base, as they feel like he can improve on his outfield defense from his rookie campaign. He definitely looked shaky out there at times and won't ever be a Gold Glove Award candidate, but it's easy to forget he's only 22 years old.
The Twins would rather let Arcia get more comfortable in the outfield, as he has the potential to be a solid power-hitting corner outfielder in the future.
As for Rosario, it's not out of the question that the 22-year-old will move back to the outfield from second base after Brian Dozier's breakout season at second. But Rosario, ranked by MLB.com as the Twins' No. 5 prospect and No. 62 overall prospect, finished last year at Double-A New Britain and still needs more seasoning at Rochester before he'll be called up.
It's a good problem for the Twins to have, as they now have depth at second base and Rosario could be moved back to the outfield if needed. And the Twins could also opt to trade either Dozier or Rosario for starting pitching, and the same goes with Arcia. The Twins desperately need starting pitching, and the only untouchables are top prospects Byron Buxton (No. 1 overall) and Miguel Sano (No. 3 overall), as well as Mauer, who has a no-trade clause.
With the rotation obviously the biggest problem, what are the chances the Twins go for a solid No. 1 or No. 2 free-agent starter like Ervin Santana, Johan Santana or even seriously consider Tim Lincecum?
-- Tim G., Minneapolis
The Twins desperately need starting pitching after their starters combined for a Major League-worst 5.26 ERA in 2013, and pitching prospects such as Alex Meyer and Trevor May aren't ready to step in to help just yet.
The Twins also have payroll flexibility, as they have about $60 million in commitments for next season, which is a drop from their $82 million payroll in '13 and nearly twice as low as their $113 million payroll in '11.
But the question will be whether Ryan will be willing to spend big in free agency for the first time as GM, as the largest free-agent contract handed out in franchise history remains Josh Willingham's three-year, $21 million deal signed before the '12 season.
With arguably the best farm system in baseball, the future looks bright in the long term, but unless Ryan decides to add quality starting pitching this offseason, their short-term success doesn't figure to improve much over the past three seasons.
The Twins need to find a way to add frontline pitching, and it's not easy or cheap, but they have the resources to sign a quality free agent or two, and have the prospects to trade for pitching help. Now, it'll be up to Ryan to try to improve this team in the short term while not hurting its future.